Board Discusses Appointment Process

The PASS Board meeting wrapped up on Thursday in Seattle, and as promised, we discussed the Board appointment process for close to 90 minutes. We gave careful consideration to the membership feedback received over the last couple of weeks and reviewed all opinions. We understand and respect that certain of our members disagree with our decision. However, the Board members who voted in favor of the appointments of Kendal Van Dyke and James Rowland-Jones stand by their decision.

As PASS President, I erred in not clearly communicating how the appointment process would work. I should have been clear whether I would automatically recommend the runners up or choose from a broader pool for my recommendation to the Board. In the future, if we have known appointment openings prior to the start of the election process, I will clearly, and publicly, articulate how I plan to approach the appointment process.

In the next PASS Connector newsletter, we will provide a roundup of our latest Board meeting and will do so for every subsequent in-person meeting. I’m also encouraging PASS Board members to blog about their Board meeting experiences. We do publish the Board meeting minutes, but I recognize many of you do not have the time to review these lengthy public documents, so we’ll summarize as best as possible and publish the information in our bi-monthly newsletter. This will help us do a better job articulating and communicating PASS Board discussions and decisions.

New PASS Board Appointments

Please join me in congratulating James Rowland Jones and Kendal Van Dyke on their appointments to the PASS Board.

James is a member of the SQLBits organizing committee, a very successful SQL Server event program based in the UK, and has been an international advisor to the PASS Board since August 2011. His approach to problem solving and well thought out ideas and discussions have been a valuable asset to the Board. Kendal is a passionate PASS volunteer and leader of the MagicPASS Chapter based in Orlando, FL. who has demonstrated thoughtful and persuasive arguments around PASS governance issues.

For those of you wondering how and why these two appointments were made to the PASS Board – read on!

PASS Board members that are elected to at-large positions serve two year terms. If they aren’t able to complete their term the bylaws state these seats are “filled, by a majority vote of the Board of Directors, for the unexpired term.” Prior to a June 2009 bylaw change these vacated seats with unexpired terms were filled by Presidential appointment.

The current process to fill vacated seats is simple and PASS Board Directors’ votes are publicly recorded. The Directors get to vote for the people who they feel will best serve the organization. It’s important to note that these appointments require a majority vote of the Board.

Board seats usually come available through resignation or a Board member moving to the Executive Committee. As of January 1st, Douglas McDowell moved to the Executive Vice-President of Finance role by Board election and Andy Warren resigned his seat. This means there were two Board seats to fill with terms expiring at the end of 2012.

While the President no longer appoints Directors, they do to put forward candidates. I did this in consultation with the Board in hopes of a smooth appointment process.
In this case, I focused on choosing the best individuals from among our membership to fill these slots. I based my decision on several factors: personal experience, whether the individuals stood for election, Nomination Committee rankings, and vote totals during the election. I also considered what they might be doing once on the Board. For example, we have an opening in the SQL Saturday portfolio that would be nice to fill without shuffling or doubling up. I also wanted to consider people from outside North America. Much of the growth for PASS over the next few years will be international and I wanted to see if we could find someone to help facilitate that growth.

I put forward James Rowland-Jones and Kendal Van Dyke as my recommended candidates. The Board discussed the appointment selections at length. We discussed a variety of potential candidates, including the two I put forward. We looked at several approaches for choosing candidates including appointing the two best people we knew, selecting the next highest vote getters in the recent election, choosing based on portfolio need and appointing based on geographic region. A portion of the discussion was placed under NDA in order to candidly discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate and the Nominating Committee information. It didn’t seem appropriate to discuss individuals’ strengths and weaknesses in the public minutes– especially since some of those individuals may not have known they were even being considered. In the end the motion passed 11 to 1 to bring on James and Kendal.

I am confident that these individuals will serve PASS and its membership effectively. Our meeting minutes will be published in a week or two. Please feel free to drop me a line with any comments or feedback, or simply comment on this post.

Board Starts New Year with Portfolio Assignments

For my first editorial as PASS President, I want to take a moment to thank all of you who voted in our Board elections in December and encourage you to get even more involved in your organization in this new year. It was awesome to see the excitement generated by a phenomenal slate of candidates and by wide-ranging community discussion about the biggest issues and opportunities facing our organization. I challenge all of us to translate that energy into creative solutions to help SQL Server professionals around the world connect, share, and learn. With your help, 2012 is going to be a great year for PASS!

One of the first tasks for the President each year is to assign Board members to portfolios, and I’m excited to announce this year’s portfolio leaders. The portfolios for members of the Executive Committee were determined when the Board elected them last June. Douglas McDowell will serve as Executive Vice President, Finance, and Thomas LaRock will serve as Vice President, Marketing. Rushabh Mehta moves to the role of Immediate Past President. These terms started Jan. 1 and run for 2 years.

Directors-At-Large are typically assigned a portfolio for a calendar year, although  sometimes Board members will head the same portfolio for 2 years. This approach works best with the natural Board turnover and matching the desires of Board members with the needs of the organization.

This year, we have only one returning At-Large Director, Allen Kinsel, who is taking over the Chapters portfolio. Allen previously headed the Summit Program committee, and his experience leading a large volunteer team will be invaluable in the Chapters area.

Our three newly elected Board members – Adam Jorgensen, Denise McInerney, and Rob Farley – have also received their portfolio assignments. Adam will lead the Summit Program portfolio, putting his previous  2 years of experience on the Program Committee and service in two other portfolios to great use. Adam’s experience and combined technical and business skills will be central to the continued expansion of our Summit educational offerings.

Denise will take over the Virtual Chapters portfolio. Denise was instrumental in the creation and growth of the Women in Technology (WIT) Virtual Chapter and the growth of its leadership team, and I’m excited to bring her experience to all our Virtual Chapters.

And Rob will lead the 24 Hours of PASS portfolio, heading up our largest online events program and one of our greatest opportunities to reach more members. PASS has a tremendous opportunity to expand its offering of  local-language events that can touch all parts of the globe. Rob’s drive and experience organizing events and volunteers will really shine in this portfolio.

Our last portfolio, the popular PASS SQLSaturday events program, will be filled when the Board appoints someone to fill one of two empty Board seats later this month.

I’m honored to be working with a Board that has more experience and depth than any I can remember. And I’m looking forward to this team and our army of volunteers accomplishing great things for PASS and the SQL Server community this year.

PASS: Election Changes for 2011

Last year after the election, the PASS Board created an Election Review Committee.  This group was charged with reviewing our election procedures and making suggestions to improve the process.  You can read about the formation of the group and review some of the intermediate work on the site – especially in the forums.

I was one of the members of the group along with Joe Webb (Chair), Lori Edwards, Brian Kelley, Wendy Pastrick, Andy Warren and Allen White.  This group worked from October to April on our election process.  Along the way we:

  • Interviewed interested parties including former NomCom members, Board candidates and anyone else that came forward.
  • Held a session at the Summit to allow interested parties to discuss the issues
  • Had numerous conference calls and worked through the various topics

I can’t thank these people enough for the work they did.  They invested a tremendous number of hours thinking, talking and writing about our elections.  I’m proud to say I was a member of this group and thoroughly enjoyed working with everyone (even if I did finally get tired of all the calls.)

The ERC delivered their recommendations to the PASS Board prior to our May Board meeting.  We reviewed those and made a few modifications.  I took their recommendations and rewrote them as procedures while incorporating those changes.  Their original recommendations as well as our final document are posted at the ERC documents page.  Please take a second and read them BEFORE we start the elections.  If you have any questions please post them in the forums on the ERC site.

(My final document includes a change log at the end that I decided to leave in.  If you want to know which areas to pay special attention to that’s a good start.)

Many of those recommendations were already posted in the forums or in the blogs of individual ERC members.  Hopefully nothing in the ERC document is too surprising.

In this post I’m going to walk through some of the key changes and talk about what I remember from both ERC and Board discussions.  I’ll pay a little extra attention to things the Board changed from the ERC.  I’d also encourage any of the Board or ERC members to blog their thoughts on this.

  1. The Nominating Committee will continue to exist.  Personally, I was curious to see what the non-Board ERC members would think about the NomCom.  There was broad agreement that a group to vet candidates had value to the organization.
  2. The NomCom will be composed of five members.  Two will be Board members and three will be from the membership at large.  The only requirement for the three community members is that you’ve volunteered in some way (and volunteering is defined very broadly).  We expect potential at-large NomCom members to participate in a forum on the PASS site to answer questions from the other PASS members.
  3. We’re going to hold an election to determine the three community members.  It will be closer to voting for Summit sessions than voting for Board members.  That means there won’t be multiple dedicated emails.  If you’re at all paying attention it will be easy to participate.  Personally I wanted it easy for those that cared to participate but not overwhelm those that didn’t care.  I think this strikes a good balance.
  4. There’s also a clause that in order to be considered a winner in this NomCom election, you must receive 10 votes.  This is something I suggested.  I have no idea how popular the NomCom election is going to be.  I just wanted a fallback that if no one participated and some random person got in with one or two votes.  Any open slots will be filled by the NomCom chair (usually the PASS Immediate Past President).  My assumption is that they would probably take the next highest vote getters unless they were throwing flames in the forums or clearly unqualified.  As a final check, the Board still approves the final NomCom.
  5. The NomCom is going to rank candidates instead of rating them.  This has interesting implications.  This was championed by another ERC member and I’m hoping they write something about it.  This will really force the NomCom to make decisions between candidates.  You can’t just rate everyone a 3 and be done with it.  It may also make candidates appear further apart than they actually are.  I’m looking forward talking with the NomCom after this election and getting their feedback on this.
  6. The PASS Board added an option to remove a candidate with a unanimous vote of the NomCom.  This was primarily put in place to handle people that lied on their application or had a criminal background or some other unusual situation and we figured it out.
  7. We list an explicit goal of three candidate per open slot.
  8. We also wanted an easy way to find the NomCom candidate rankings from the ballot.  Hopefully this will satisfy those that want a broad candidate pool and those that want the NomCom to identify the most qualified candidates.
  9. The primary spokesperson for the NomCom is the committee chair.  After the issues around the election last year we didn’t have a good communication plan in place.  We should have and that was a failure on the part of the Board.  If there is criticism of the election this year I hope that falls squarely on the Board.  The community members of the NomCom shouldn’t be fielding complaints over the election process.  That said, the NomCom is ranking candidates and we are forcing them to rank some lower than others.  I’m sure you’ll each find someone that you think should have been ranked differently. 

I also want to highlight one other change to the process that we started last year and isn’t included in these documents.  I think the candidate forums on the PASS site were tremendously helpful last year in helping people to find out more about candidates.  That gives our members a way to ask hard questions of the candidates and publicly see their answers.

This year we have two important groups to fill.  The first is the NomCom.  We need three people from our membership to step up and fill this role.  It won’t be easy.  You will have to make subjective rankings of your fellow community members.  Your actions will be important in deciding who the future leaders of PASS will be.  There’s a 50/50 chance that one of the people you interview will be the President of PASS someday.  This is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.

The second is the slate of candidates.  If you’ve ever thought about running for the Board this is the year.  We’ve never had nine candidates on the ballot before.  Your chance of making it through the NomCom are higher than in any previous year.  Unfortunately the more of you that run, the more of you that will lose in the election.  And hopefully that competition will mean more community involvement and better Board members for PASS.

Is this the end of changes to the election process?  It isn’t.  Every year that I’ve been on the Board the election process has changed.  Some years there have been small changes and some years there have been large changes.  After this election we’ll look at how the process worked and decide what steps to take – just like we do every year.

-Bill Graziano

PASS Summit 2011: Save Money Now

[cross-posted from Bill Graziano's original Mar. 29 post on sqlteam.com]

Register by March 31st and save $200.  On April 1st we increase the price.  On July 1st we increase it again.  We have regular price bumps all the way through to the Summit.  You can save yourself $200 if you register by Thursday.

In two years of marketing for PASS and a year of finance I’ve learned a fair bit about our pricing, why we do this and how you react to it.  Let me help you save some money!

Price bumps drive registrations.  We see big spikes in the two weeks prior to a price increase.  Having a deadline with a cost attached is a great motivator to get people to take action.

Registering early helps you and it helps PASS.  You get the exact same Summit at a cheaper rate.  PASS gets smoother cash flow and a better idea of how many people to expect.  We also get people that are already registered that will tell their friends about the conference.

This tiered pricing lets us serve those that are very price conscious.  They can register early and take advantage of these discounts.  I know there are people that pay for this conference out of their own pockets.  This is a great way for those people to reduce the cost of the conference.  (And remember for next year that our cheapest pricing starts right after the Summit and usually goes up around the first of the year.)

We also get big price bumps after we announce the program and the pre-conference sessions.  If you wrote down the 50 or so best known speakers in the SQL Server community I’m guessing we’ll have nearly all of them at the conference.  We did last year.  I expect we will this year too.  We’re going to have good sessions.  Why wait?  Register today.

If you want to attend a pre-conference session you can always add it to your registration later.  Pre-con prices don’t change.  It’s very easy to update your registration and add a pre-conference session later.

I want as many people as possible to attend the Summit.  It’s been a great experience for me and I hope it will be for you.  And if you are going to go, do yourself a favor and save some money.  Register today!

 

PASS: The Legal Stuff

[cross-posted from Bill Graziano's blog at sqlteam.com]

I wanted to give a little background on the legal status of PASS.  The Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) is an American corporation chartered in the state of Illinois.  In America a corporation has to be chartered in a particular state.  It has to abide by the laws of that state and potentially pay taxes to that state.  Our bylaws and actions have to comply with Illinois state law and United States law.  We maintain a mailing address in Chicago, Illinois but our headquarters is currently in Vancouver, Canada.

We have roughly a dozen people that work in our Vancouver headquarters and 4-5 more that work remotely on various projects.  These aren’t employees of PASS.  They are employed by a management company that we hire to run the day to day operations of the organization.  I’ll have more on this arrangement in a future post.

PASS is a non-profit corporation.  The term non-profit and not-for-profit are used interchangeably.  In a for-profit corporation (or LLC) there are owners that are entitled to the profits of a company.  In a non-profit there are no owners.  As a non-profit, all the money earned by the organization must be retained or spent.  There is no money that flows out to shareholders, owners or the board of directors.  Any money not spent in furtherance of our mission is retained as financial reserves.

Many non-profits apply for tax exempt status.  Being tax exempt means that an organization doesn’t pay taxes on its profits.  There are a variety of laws governing who can be tax exempt in the United States.  There are many professional associations that are tax exempt however PASS isn’t tax exempt.  Because our mission revolves around the software of a single company we aren’t eligible for tax exempt status.

PASS was founded in the late 1990’s by Microsoft and Platinum Technologies.  Platinum was later purchased by Computer Associates. As the founding partners Microsoft and CA each have two seats on the Board of Directors.  The other six directors and three officers are elected as specified in our bylaws.

As a non-profit, our bylaws layout our governing practices.  They must conform to Illinois and United States law.  These bylaws specify that PASS is governed by a Board of Directors elected by the membership with two members each from Microsoft and CA.  You can find our bylaws as well as a proposed update to them on the governance page of the PASS web site.

The last point that I’d like to make is that PASS is completely self-funded.  All of our $4 million in revenue comes from conference registrations, sponsorships and advertising.  We don’t receive any money from anyone outside those channels.  While we work closely with Microsoft we are independent of them and only derive a very small percentage of our revenue from them.

The Changing Face of PASS

[cross-posted from Bill Graziano's blog at sqlteam.com]

I’m starting my sixth year on the PASS Board.  I served two years as the Program Director, two years as the Vice-President of Marketing and I’m starting my second year as the Executive Vice-President of Finance.  There’s a pretty good chance that if PASS has done something you don’t like or is doing something you don’t like, that I’m involved in one way or another.

Andy Leonard asked in a comment on his blog if the Board had ever reversed itself based on community input.  He asserted that it hadn’t.  I disagree.  I’m not going to try and list all the changes we make inside portfolios based on feedback from and meetings with the community.  I’m going to focus on major governance issues since I was elected to the Board.

Management Company

The first big change was our management company.  Our old management company had a standard approach to running a non-profit.  It worked well when PASS was launched.  Having a ready-made structure and process to run the organization enabled the organization to grow quickly.  As time went on we were limited in some of the things we wanted to do.  The more involved you were with PASS, the more you saw these limitations.  Key volunteers were regularly providing feedback that they wanted certain changes that were difficult for us to accomplish.  The Board at that time wanted changes that were difficult or impossible to accomplish under that structure.

This was not a simple change.  Imagine a $2.5 million dollar company letting all its employees go on a Friday and starting with a new staff on Monday.  We also had a very narrow window to accomplish that so that we wouldn’t affect the Summit – our only source of revenue.  We spent the year after the change rebuilding processes and putting on the Summit in Denver. 

That’s a concrete example of a huge change that PASS made to better serve its members.  And it was a change that many in the community were telling us we needed to make.

Financials

We heard regularly from our members that they wanted our financials posted.  Today on our web site you can find audited financials going back to 2004.  We publish our budget at the start of each year.  If you ask a question about the financials on the PASS site I do my best to answer it.  I’m also trying to do a better job answering financial questions posted in other locations.  (And yes, I know I owe a few of you some blog posts.)

That’s another concrete example of a change that our members asked for that the Board agreed was a good decision.

Minutes

When I started on the Board the meeting minutes were very limited.  The minutes from a two day Board meeting might fit on one page.  I think we did the bare minimum we were legally required to do.  Today Board meeting minutes run from 5 to 12 pages and go into incredible detail on what we talk about.  There are certain topics that are NDA but where possible we try to list the topic we discussed but that the actual discussion was under NDA.  We also publish the agenda of Board meetings ahead of time.

This is another specific example where input from the community influenced the decision.  It was certainly easier to have limited minutes but I think the extra effort helps our members understand what’s going on.

Board Q&A

At the 2009 Summit the Board held its first public Q&A with our members.  We’d always been available individually to answer questions.  There’s a benefit to getting us all in one room and asking the really hard questions to watch us squirm.  We learn what questions we don’t have good answers for.  We get to see how many people in the crowd look interested in the various questions and answers.

I don’t recall the genesis of how this came about.  I’m fairly certain there was some community pressure though.

Board Votes

Until last November, the Board only reported the vote totals and not how individual Board members voted.  That was one of the topics at a great lunch I had with Tim Mitchell and Kendal van Dyke at the Summit.  That was also the topic of the first question asked at the Board Q&A by Kendal.  Kendal expressed his opposition to to anonymous votes clearly and passionately and without trying to paint anyone into a corner.  Less than 24 hours later the PASS Board voted to make individual votes public unless the topic was under NDA.  That’s another area where the Board decided to change based on feedback from our members.

Summit Location

While this isn’t actually a governance issue it is one of the more public decisions we make that has taken some public criticism.  There is a significant portion of our members that want the Summit near them.  There is a significant portion of our members that like the Summit in Seattle.  There is a significant portion of our members that think it should move around the country.  I was one that felt strongly that there were significant, tangible benefits to our attendees to being in Seattle every year.  I’m also one that has been swayed by some very compelling arguments that we need to have at least one outside Seattle and then revisit the decision.  I can’t tell you how the Board will vote but I know the opinion of our members weighs heavily on the decision.

Elections

And that brings us to the grand-daddy of all governance issues.  My thesis for this blog post is that the PASS Board has implemented policy changes in response to member feedback.  It isn’t to defend or criticize our election process.  It’s just to say that is has been under going continuous change since I’ve been on the Board. 

I ran for the Board in the fall of 2005.  I don’t know much about what happened before then.  I was actively volunteering for PASS for four years prior to that as a chapter leader and on the program committee.  I don’t recall any complaints about elections but that doesn’t mean they didn’t occur.  The questions from the Nominating Committee (NomCom) were trivial and the selection process rudimentary (For example, “Tell us about your accomplishments”).  I don’t even remember who I ran against or how many other people ran. 

I ran for the VP of Marketing in the fall of 2007.  I don’t recall any significant changes the Board made in the election process for that election.  I think a lot of the changes in 2007 came from us asking the management company to work on the election process.  I was expecting a similar set of puff ball questions from my previous election.  Boy, was I in for a shock.  The NomCom had found a much better set of questions and really made the interview portion difficult.  The questions were much more behavioral in nature.  I’d already written about my vision for PASS and my goals.  They wanted to know how I handled adversity, how I handled criticism, how I handled conflict, how I handled troublesome volunteers, how I motivated people and how I responded to motivation. And many, many other things.

They grilled me for over an hour.  I’ve done a fair bit of technical sales in my time.  I feel I speak well under pressure addressing pointed questions.  This interview intentionally put me under pressure.  In addition to wanting to know about my interpersonal skills, my work experience, my volunteer experience and my supervisory experience they wanted to see how I’d do under pressure.  They wanted to see who would respond under pressure and who wouldn’t.  It was a bit of a shock.

That was the first big change I remember in the election process.  I know there were other improvements around the process but none of them stick in my mind quite like the unexpected hour-long grilling.

The next big change I remember was after the 2009 elections.  Andy Warren was unhappy with the election process and wanted to make some changes.  He worked with Hannes at HQ and they came up with a better set of processes.  I think Andy moved PASS in the right direction.  Nonetheless, after the 2010 election even more people were very publicly clamoring for changes to our election process. 

In August of 2010 we had a choice to make.  There were numerous bloggers criticizing the Board and our upcoming election.  The easy change would be to announce that we were changing the process in a way that would satisfy our critics.  I believe that a knee-jerk response to criticism is seldom correct.

Instead the Board spent August and September and October and November listening to the community.  I visited two SQLSaturdays and asked questions of everyone I could.  I attended chapter meetings and asked questions of as many people as they’d let me.  At Summit I made it a point to introduce myself to strangers and ask them about the election.  At every breakfast I’d sit down at a table full of strangers and ask about the election.  I’m happy to say that I left most tables arguing about the election.  Most days I managed to get 2 or 3 breakfasts in.

I spent less time talking to people that had already written about the election.  They were already expressing their opinion.  I wanted to talk to people that hadn’t spoken up.  I wanted to know what the silent majority thought.  The Board all attended the Q&A session where our members expressed their concerns about a variety of issues including the election.

The PASS Board also chose to create the Election Review Committee.  We wanted people from the community that had been involved with PASS to look at our election process with fresh eyes while listening to what the community had to say and give us some advice on how we could improve the process.  I’m a part of this as is Andy Warren.  None of the other members are on the Board.  I’ve sat in numerous calls and interviews with this group and attended an open meeting at the Summit.  We asked anyone that wanted to discuss the election to come speak with us.  The ERC held an open meeting at the Summit and invited anyone to attend.  There are forums on the ERC web site where we’ve invited people to participate.  The ERC has reached to key people involved in recent elections. 

The years that I haven’t mentioned also saw minor improvements in the election process.  Off the top of my head I don’t recall what exact changes were made each year.  Specifically since the 2010 election we’ve gone out of our way to seek input from the community about the process.  I’m not sure what more we could have done to invite feedback from the community.

I think to say that we haven’t “fixed” the election process isn’t a fair criticism at this time.  We haven’t rushed any changes through the process.  If you don’t see any changes in our election process in July or August then I think it’s fair to criticize us for ignoring the community or ask for an explanation for what we’ve done.

In Summary

Andy’s main point was that the PASS Board hasn’t changed in response to our members wishes.  I think I’ve shown that time and time again the PASS Board has changed in response to what our members want.  There are only two outstanding issues: Summit location and elections.  The 2013 Summit location hasn’t been decided yet.  Our work on the elections is also in progress.  And at every step in the election review we’ve gone out of our way to listen to the community and incorporate their feedback on the process.

I also hope I’m not encouraging everyone that wants some change in the organization to organize a “blog rush” against the Board.  We take public suggestions very seriously but we also take the time to evaluate those suggestions and learn what the rest of our members think and make a measured decision.

PASS: 2013 Summit Location

[cross-posted from Bill Graziano's blog at sqlteam.com]

HQ recently posted a brief update on our search for a location for 2013.  It includes links to posts by four Board members and two community members. I’d like to add my thoughts to the mix and ask you a question.  But I can’t give you a real understanding without telling you some history first.

So far we’ve had the Summit in Chicago, San Francisco, Orlando, Dallas, Denver and Seattle.  Each has a little different feel and distinct memories.  I enjoyed getting drinks by the pool in Orlando after the sessions ended.  I didn’t like that our location in Dallas was so far away from all the nightlife.  Denver was in downtown but we had real challenges with hotels.  I enjoyed the different locations.  I always enjoyed the announcement during the third keynote with the location of the next Summit.

There are two big events that impacted my thinking on the Summit location.  The first was our transition to the new management company in early 2007.  The event that September in Denver was put on with a six month planning cycle by a brand new headquarters staff.  It wasn’t perfect but came off much better than I had dared to hope.  It also moved us out of the cookie cutter conferences that we used to do into a model where we have a lot more control.  I think you’ll all agree that the production values of our last few Summits have been fantastic. 

That Summit also led to our changing relationship with Microsoft.  Microsoft holds two seats on the PASS Board.  All the PASS Board members face the same challenge: we all have full-time jobs and PASS comes in second place professionally (or sometimes further back).  Starting in 2008 we were assigned a liaison from Microsoft that had a much larger block of time to coordinate with us.  That changed everything between PASS and Microsoft.  Suddenly we were talking to product marketing, Microsoft PR, their event team, the Tech*Ed team, the education division, their user group team and their field sales team – locally and internationally.  We strengthened our relationship with CSS, SQLCAT and the engineering teams.  We had exposure at the executive level that we’d never had before.  And their level of participation at the Summit changed from under 100 people to 400-500 people.  I think those 400+ Microsoft employees have value at a conference on Microsoft SQL Server.  For the first time, Seattle had a real competitive advantage over other cities.

I’m one that looked very hard at staying in Seattle for a long, long time.  I think those Microsoft engineers have value to our attendees.  I think the increased support that Microsoft can provide when we’re in Seattle has value to our attendees.  But that doesn’t tell the whole story.  There’s a significant (and vocal!) percentage of our membership that wants the Summit outside Seattle.  Post-2007 PASS doesn’t know what it’s like to have a Summit outside of Seattle.  I think until we have a Summit in another city we won’t really know the trade-offs.

I think a model where we move every third or every other year is interesting.  But until we have another Summit outside Seattle and we can evaluate the logistics and how important it is to have depth and variety in our Microsoft participation we won’t really know.

Another benefit that comes with a move is variety or diversity.  I learn more when I’m exposed to new things and new people.  I believe that moving the Summit will give a different set of people an opportunity to attend.

Grant Fritchey writes “It seems that the board is leaning, extremely heavily, towards making it a permanent fixture in Seattle.”  I don’t believe that’s true.  I know there was discussion of that earlier but I don’t believe it’s true now.

And that brings me to my question.  Do we announce the city now or do we wait until the 2012 Summit?  I’m happy to announce Seattle vs. not-Seattle as soon as we sign the contract.  But I’d like to leave the actual city announcement until the 2011 Summit.  I like the drama and mystery of it.  I also like that it doesn’t give you a reason to skip a Summit and wait for the next one if it’s closer or back in Seattle.  The other side of the coin is that your planning is easier if you know where it is.  What do you think?

 

The Budget Process

Every fiscal year PASS creates a detailed budget.  This helps us set priorities and communicate to our members what we’re going to do in the upcoming year.  You can review the current budget on the PASS Governance page.  That page currently requires you to login but I’m talking with HQ to see if there are any legal issues with opening that up.

The Accounting Team

The PASS accounting team is two people.  The Executive Vice-President of Finance (“EVP”) and the PASS Accounting Manager.  Sandy Cherry is the accounting manager and works at PASS HQ.  Sandy has been with PASS since we switched management companies in 2007.  Throughout this document when I talk about any actual work related to the budget that’s all Sandy :)  She’s the glue that gets us through this process.  Last year we went through 32 iterations of the budget before the Board approved so it’s a pretty busy time for her us – well, mostly her.

Fiscal Year

The PASS fiscal year runs from July 1st through June 30th the following year.  Right now we’re in fiscal year 2011.  Our 2010 Summit actually occurred in FY2011.  We switched to this schedule from a calendar year in 2006.  Our goal was to have the Summit occur early in our fiscal year.  That gives us the rest of the year to handle any significant financial impact from the Summit.  If registrations are down we can reduce spending.  If registrations are up we can decide how much to increase our reserves and how much to spend.  Keep in mind that the Summit is budgeted to generate 82% of our revenue this year.  How it performs has a significant impact on our financials. 

The other benefit of this fiscal year is that it matches the Microsoft fiscal year.  We sign an annual sponsorship agreement with Microsoft and it’s very helpful that our fiscal years match.

This year our budget process will probably start in earnest in March or April.  I’d like to be done in early June so we can publish before July 1st.  I was late publishing it this year and I’m trying not to repeat that.

Our Budget

Our actual budget is an Excel spreadsheet with 36 sheets.  We remove some of those when we publish it since they include salary information.  The budget is broken up into various portfolios or departments.  We have 20 portfolios.  They include chapters, marketing, virtual chapters, marketing, etc.  Ideally each portfolio is assigned to a Board member.  Each portfolio also typically has a staff person assigned to it.  Portfolios that aren’t assigned to a Board member are monitored by HQ and the ExecVP-Finance (me).  These are typically smaller portfolios such as deferred membership or Summit futures.  (More on those in a later post.)  All portfolios are reviewed by all Board members during the budget approval process, when interim financials are released internally and at year-end.

The Process

Our first step is to budget revenues.  The Board determines a target attendee number.  We have formulas based on historical performance that convert that to an overall attendee revenue number.  Other revenue projections (such as vendor sponsorships) come from different parts of the organization.  I hope to have another post with more details on how we project revenues.

The next step is to budget expenses.  Board members fill out a sample spreadsheet with their budget for the year.  They can add line items and notes describing what the amounts are for.  Each Board portfolio typically has from 10 to 30 line items.  Any new initiatives they want to pursue needs to be budgeted.  The Summit operations budget is managed by HQ.  It includes the cost for food, electrical, internet, etc.  Most of these come from our estimate of attendees and our contract with the convention center.  During this process the Board can ask for more or less to be spent on various line items.  For example, if we weren’t happy with the Internet at the last Summit we can ask them to look into different options and/or increasing the budget.  HQ will also make adjustments to these numbers based on what they see at the events and the feedback we receive on the surveys.

After we have all the initial estimates we start reviewing the entire budget.  It is sent out to the Board and we can see what each portfolio requested and what the overall profit and loss number is.  We usually start with too much in expenses and need to cut.  In years past the Board started haggling over these numbers as a group.  This past year they decided I should take a first cut and present them with a reasonable budget and a list of what I changed.  That worked well and I think we’ll continue to do that in the future.

We go through a number of iterations on the budget.  If I remember correctly, we went through 32 iterations before we passed the budget.  At each iteration various revenue and expense numbers can change.  Keep in mind that the PASS budget has 200+ line items spread over 20 portfolios.  Many of these depend on other numbers.  For example, if we decide increase the projected attendees that cascades through our budget.  At each iteration we list what changed and the impact. 

Ideally these discussions will take place at a face-to-face Board meeting.  Many of them also take place over the phone.  Board members explain any increase they are asking for while performing due diligence on other budget requests.  Eventually a budget emerges and is passed.

Publishing

After the budget is passed we create a version without the formulas and salaries for posting on the web site.  Sandy also creates some charts to help our members understand the budget.  The EVP writes a nice little letter describing some of the changes from last year’s budget.  You can see my letter and our budget on the PASS Governance page.

And then, eight months later, we start all over again.

Help make the next Summit even better

[cross-posted from Bill Graziano's blog at weblogs.sqlteam.com/billg]

After the Summit we send out a survey to capture feedback.  We ask a consistent set of questions so we get good year over year results.  I’ve watched blog posts and email threads with ideas for a better Summit.  I got to sit with Denny and crew again on Saturday night and talk about what worked and what didn’t.  We’d like to capture those ideas in a way that you can vote on what’s important to you. 

Please take a second and visit http://feedback.sqlpass.org/.  You can make suggestions, vote on the ideas already posted and add your own comments.  Help PASS make next year’s Summit “The Best Summit Ever!”